The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calcutta, Oct. 15: Sorry, but not sorry.

That is how the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and his party, the CPM, reacted today to news of six-month-old Shabana Parveen’s death.

And, yes, there was the regulation rally. It was not a march of mourners wearing black bands and holding their silence. It was not a procession to Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, from where a dying Shabana turned away on Monday, to question why.

It was not a delegation to Writers’ Buildings to ask the chief minister how the government’s healthcare system fails again and again.

They marched through Calcutta’s streets in their thousands under banners of the CPM’s women’s wing.

These mothers, sisters, daughters were sorry to hear of Shabana’s death. But not sorry to hold another rally.

“Our sympathies are with Shabana’s parents. But for the greater cause of the people, we will have to take out processions. People will suffer a little inconvenience, too,” said Shyamashree Das, a leader of the Paschimbanga Ganatantrik Mahila Samiti.

Not one of them visited a one-room home in the slum of Howrah’s Noor Mohammad Munshi Lane where a young father and mother grieved the death of their daughter.

At Writers’ Buildings, some officials were arguing that it was not Monday’s rally that killed the child. “It is a blatant lie. The child did not die because of the rally,” said advocate-general Balai Ray, who argued in court that day against Justice Amitava Lala’s ruling restricting rallies.

After a meeting with the chief minister, he said rally or not, the road (Canning Street) — where Shabana’s parents, Ashraf and Naseema, got stuck in their taxi while on their way to Medical College — is a place of perennial traffic jams.

If he said this with Bhattacharjee’s sanction is not known because the chief minister has again receded behind a veil of silence. “You are being childish by asking me about a matter pending in the court. You have lost your common sense,” Bhattacharjee said when asked if he had discussed Shabana’s death with Ray.

But there are answers to be given, if not for the rally, then for the traffic jam. Whose responsibility is it to see traffic flows and that parents bearing dying children have a smooth passage to hospital' And once they get to the hospital, who is to take care of an unlettered, impoverished couple and see that their sick child gets admitted'

Medical College principal Jayashree Mitra conducted a probe. On the basis of that inquiry, the director of medical education, C.R. Maity, said no nurse had asked for money from Shabana’s parents, as alleged.

Yesterday, Ashraf had said they had turned away because they did not have the Rs 1,000 sought for admission.

“When the sick baby was referred to the paediatric ward, the doctors had prepared the bed and rigged up the saline pouches. The doctor asked Ashraf to go and get the admission papers from the emergency. Shabana’s father enquired and found that investigations could cost around Rs 1,000. That is when he left and never returned,” said Maity.

If this sounds like a whitewash, it cannot be denied that the death has momentarily shaken up at least the medical establishment. There seems to be realisation that the doctors should have taken the responsibility of admitting Shabana.

“We will issue a circular asking doctors not to let critical patients go out of the ward once they come in,” said Maity.

Sensing the public anger, CPM state secretary Anil Biswas said: “We feel sorry.”

“It is an unfortunate death but let me say that it was in no way connected with Monday’s rally,” he added.

Some of the disquiet and all of the denial are also because the rally case will come up in the high court once it reopens.

Kunal Saha, a US-based doctor and the force behind People For Better Treatment, said he would file a public interest litigation against rallies.

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